My upcoming workshop!

Starting September 17, 2017, I will be the instructor of a workshop titled “Urban Sketching: What’s your story?” at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, DE. The workshop’s objective is for participants to sharpen their observation skills and enabling them to focus on their stories and filtering out distractions.

I have been a member of the Urban Sketchers (USK) movement for a long time, so the principles of the USK manifesto are very important to me, like “we are truthful to the scenes we witness”. I don’t mean that we should make up or alter the scenes we sketch. But I’ve learned that I shouldn’t pretend to capture every little detail that I see; that’s what cameras are for. Think of a newspaper: I want to my sketches to be an editorial of the stories that surround me.

We all may struggle when trying to capture a focused story on location. So many details, people are moving, lots of distractions. It happens to alll of us. I sketched this a few weeks ago while waiting for my train to work. I had less than 10 minutes, so I had to work fast. Even though I like it as a sketch, it didn’t capture my story. At all. Not even close.

All day long I kept that sketch in my mind. What happened? How I can improve it? It’s loose, not too much details, usually a good formula. But my story isn’t there. The story is the soul of an urban sketch, so a sketch without a story is just an exercise of mark making and technique. And then something clicked. I knew what i had to do.

Next day I went back and sat on the same bench, same time. And this was my sketch:

My story is there, all the activity that happens every morning by the Schuylkill River Trail. Serious runners, amateur joggers, casual bikers and avid riders, all coexisting in the same place. And I think that’s wonderful. I feel this quick sketch is much more powerful than the one from the previous day, just by focusing on the real story and filtering out distractions. The buildings are there, but are not the story. The trees are there as well, but just as a backdrop. The overhead wires are definitely out. People moving along the path are the subject. Notice how irrelevant they were in the first sketch!

This is part of what we’ll be covering in the workshop. if you live nearby I invite you to join us. So, what’s your story?

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please let me know.


It’s been a while since I posted; I had technical issues that prevented me to post from my phone but my friend Ramiro helped me out. I have been very busy at work, add the cold weather and that results in less lunchtime sketching.

A couple weeks ago fellow Urban Sketchers Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel came up with the challenge of drawing 100 people in 5 days, so anyone who decided to participate would use the hashtag #OneWeek100People2017. I guess they meant work week, because it ran from Monday to Friday; you needed to average 20 people per day to complete the challenge. I’ve had a very busy schedule lately, so I knew it would be uphill for me to complete the challenge, but still gave it a try. As did thousands of people from all over the world… crazy.

The challenge didn’t specify how much time per sketch, so you could do 1-minute gesture sketches or more detailed ones. I know I can crunch 100 gesture sketches in a couple hours, but decided that if I was gonna do this, the sketches would be more than a gesture sketch, colored, and done by observation, no photographs. Even if that meant I was shooting myself in the foot.

Spoiler alert, I couldn’t finish the challenge. I ended up sketching 55 people, using the app Sketches Pro on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. Probably I had too many variables: I am not used to sketching digitally, and when I do, I normally use Procreate. But Sketches Pro allowed me to use some great tools,  like the ink pen and the watercolor brush, which I loved.

Having a tight schedule, I could barely sketch in three batches of 15 minutes per day– on the train to work, at lunch and on the train back home. I used to like sketching people on the train, but this time I didn’t feel the same. You mostly sketch 3/4 rear views, some side views and very few faces. And during winter everyone’s clothes are basically the same colors, so after three days I got bored. Also, in order to average 20 per day, I had only about two minutes 15 seconds per sketch. So evidently I was falling short, calling it quits on the fourth day.

I’d like to revisit this challenge when my schedule isn’t as packed; I think it is a great exercise. I’m still satisfied with what I accomplished, even if I didn’t complete the challenge. I got myself to sketch like 50 more people than I usually sketch in a week, so that itself is a success.

Did you participate in the challenge? I’d love to learn about your experience.

Sketching at Chinatown

Yesterday our group Urban Sketchers Philadelphia met at Chinatown Philadelphia. I had only driven by before, so it was my first actual visit. Even with the high temperatures it was a great outing. 

We met in front of the China Gate, an emblematic portal of Chinatown. It was a fantastic experience, great smells of the nearby restaurants, people stopping and talking to us, great subjects… 

One guy stopped, asked for my pen and started scribbling Chinese characters on the palm of his hand. He spoke no English, and kept pointing at the gate. I gave him my sketchbook and he wrote the characters on my page. 

Later I found out that it in fact translates to Philadelphia Chinatown. 

Sketching With Watersoluble Ink (Part 2)

Last week I accidentally posted publicly what was supposed to be a draft. It’s no big deal, except it was incomplete, so now I’ll try to finish my line of thought.  

I had named my favorite watersoluble pen, the PaperMate flair. These are some of the pages I sketched a couple months ago while riding the Philly Ducks, an amphibian vehicle tour in Philadelphia. The simple setup allowed me to be very fast and loose, while adding a shading layer to the sketches.

You can also use fountain or brush pens with any soluble ink. Artist Marc Taro Holmes has explored this technique, using colored watersoluble ink for a wonderful effect. Be sure to follow his blog. He is also a great teacher; he’s got a couple of classes on Craftsy, I highly recommend these. 

As a caution, some inks react in very weird ways with water. I got a bottle of DeAtramentis Mahatma Ghandi, a very nice yellow shade I intended to use in a pen brush and create these blurred effects with clear water. To my surprise, the ink turns into a bright neon yellow, pretty much like a book highlighter. Useless. Glad I had tested it out first.  

Anyway, here’s a short video I recorded in my home studio using a PaperMate flair and a waterbrush. This is the typical process I follow when sketching on location with watersoluble ink.  

Sketching With Watersoluble Ink

Waterproof ink is usually the first requirement of anyone doing ink and watercolor sketches. The nightmare of an ink & watercolor sketcher is when you finish all the linework, start coloring and the ink starts to bleed. Happened to me before. However, if used consciously, watersoluble ink is quite interesting, an alternative if you’re looking to minimize your gear and create loose and fast sketches.

One of my favorites is the PaperMate flair pen. My friend Tom Leytham introduced me to these as a sketching tool and it was an a-ha moment; you add a waterbrush and you’ve got multiple lineweights and different shading values while keeping maximum portability. These pens are very cheap and give you variable lines, depending on the angle you draw and the pressure you use on them. When in contact with water, the ink dissolves in a cool grey tone. This is a quick lunchtime sketch I did in Center City Philadelphia:

I’m currently not a huge fan of waterbrushes, but these are perfect for small sketches on the train or when I have an extra-limited time window. I use this setup when on the move, as I did when I sketched from the ferry with a group of USK-NYC sketchers a couple years ago:

Not all watersoluble inks are the same, some have yellowish tones, some purplish, so it’s better to test them out to avoid unexpected results. 

Try this out and let me know what you think. 

A New Chapter: Urban Sketchers Philadelphia

Our sketching group has now become the new Urban Sketchers Regional Chapter of Philadelphia! We were approved a few weeks ago; evidently we are very excited about this opportunity.

When we moved to the States three years ago we immediately looked up for sketching groups in the area. Urban sketching is a great way to get to know places and meet new friends. To my surprise, Urban Sketchers didn’t have a regional chapter in Philadelphia. I then used to find any sketching groups. 

All the groups I joined there were more about landscape painting. I met very good artists, and sketched with them a few times. However, I don’t consider myself a painter or a watercolorist. So we decided to create an urban sketching group, Sketching Philadelphia. 

We have grown slowly, but in the last few months we’ve gotten more momentum. We established a steady schedule, activated our social media outlets, recruited a third administrator and applied to become the Urban Sketchers Regional Chapter of Philadelphia. And we were approved!

We hold an official sketching outing every second Saturday of the month at different places across the city of Philadelphia. Attendance is growing as well; thirteen sketchers showed up for our last event. The events are free, fun and we meet new friends. 

You can join us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, @USKPhiladelphia.

Here are some of my sketches with @USKPhiladelphia:


Marking With Markers

Here is my second YouTube video, in which I sketch with Copic Sketch Markers. I’ve been dabbling with markers for architectural presentations for years now, but for the last few years I’ve been using them more often, especially on location. I know how intimidating these are, so I want to share some of the things I’ve learned. 

1. Never use the fine tip. Some markers come with two tips, usually a chisel tip and a fine tip. You can achieve many strokes with the chisel tip, so the fine tip is unnecessary. Trying to fill in a color block with the fine tip yields terrible results. 

2. Do not buy a basic set. Basic sets come with only six to twelve colors, so it is very difficult to achieve something that looks good with such palettes. Unless you are a product designer who uses color simply as a highlight, a basic set is not worth it. A few values of greys provide more versatility and are way less expensive. If you fall in love with markers after using grayscales for a while, then go ahead and get a color set. 

3. Copic is king. I’ve used a lot of marker brands, but my favorite is Copic. These markers cost about twice as other markers (such as Prismacolor) but they are refillable and have replaceable nibs. A bottle of ink will cost about the same amount of a new marker, but will refill them about 13 times. No-brainer. 

4. Jump one or two. You don’t need all the greyscale values. You can jump either one or two values within the same family. For example, I use Neutral Grays, N0, N2, N,4, N6, N8. You could also use N0, N3 and N6 but gradations are not as smooth. To achieve the missing values you do a second layer after they dry. I also sometimes just use a black marker, pulling or pushing values to create a high contrast image rather than a line drawing. 

5. Streaks or not. I like juicy markers, but I prefer to see the strokes rather than an even color. Sketches get a wonderful character if your strokes are confident. On the contrary, if you prefer even blocks of color, you need to keep the area wet by continuously going over with the marker. It’s something similar to wet-and-wet watercolors, so edges will be a little blurred. It takes a lot of time and patience. 

Also here are some sketches I’ve done on location with markers: 

Sushi Night


Last night we had our neighbors come in to make sushi. They all helped, but I know my limitations, so I documented the get together instead. Lots of fun, tasty food, a great way to end the work week.

Katie’s Komets


Esteban has joined a wheelchair basketball team in Philadelphia, Katie’s Komets. Here he is in a layup drill during his first official practice. The team’s page is